The apocalyptic XVIth chapter of the Didache – Part five

The apocalyptic XVIth chapter of the Didache – Part five

 Didache XVI:6 

 And then shall appear the signs of the truth. First the sign spread out in the sky, then the sign of the sound of the trumpet, and thirdly the resurrection of the dead.

The first sign of reality: the sign in the air

Didache XVI



Verse 6

War book V:471

Mc 13

“First the sing spread out in the air …”

“At first there arose a dense cloud of smoke and dust as the flames were smothered by the debris …”

the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light

(Didache) The Greek αληθεια means ‘truth’ as well as ‘reality’. I think reality is the better choice here. I translate οὐρανός as ‘sky’ instead of’ heaven’. That the sign is spreading out is quite suggestive for a huge column of smoke rising first and spreading out afterwards.

(Josephus) In his description of the burning of the Temple compound, Josephus concentrates on the fire (see part 4). In the verse above he mentions smoke production earlier during the siege of Jerusalem.

(New Testament) The smoke production is so enormous that sun and moon are hided from view.

The second sing of reality: the sound of the trumpet

Didache XVI



Verse 6

War book III-VI


“Then the sing of the sound of the salpinx …”

III:86, 89, 90: The salpinx in camp life

III:124 and V:48: The place of the salpinx-player before the eagle and surrounded by the sacred standards when on the march

III:91: Announces the ‘ready for war’ cry

III:265: Gives the sign for the attack on Jotapata

IV:20: Gives the sign for the attack on Gamla

VI:68-69: Salpinx-players and salpinges in the surprise attack on the Antonia fortress

Seven salpinges are sounded by seven angels in Revelation 8-11.

The salpinx is a musical instrument of the ancient Greek that had its most important function in warfare. As throughout all the relevant literature (also in the Septuagint) the Greek σαλπιγξ (and derived words) is used, I have kept it.

(J) Josephus extensively mentions the salpinx in different aspects of Roman warfare in the war against the Jews.

(NT) As the sound of the salpinx seems to herald an important event, I think we should not look at Josephus in the first place, but to Revelation and the Old Testament. In Revelation the salpinx is heralding God’s and his Christ’s final victory over the κοσμος (the Roman empire?), and also in 1 Sam 13:3 heralding victory is the function of the salpinx. In Joel 2:1 the salpinx heralds the day of the Lord, the day that concretely turned out to bring along Roman victory. But perhaps the most interesting relation can be drawn with Isaiah 27:10a/11b/13a: “For the fortified city is solitary, a habitation deserted and forsaken, like a wilderness; (…) For this is a people without discernment; therefore he who made them will not have compassion on them, he that formed them will show them no favor. (…) And in that day a great salpinx will be blown …” So the sign of the salpinx heralds the final Roman victory, the fall of Jerusalem’s Upper City, the last part of the city in the hands of its defenders.

The third sign of reality: the recovery of the moribund

Didache XVI



Verse 6

War VI:414-419 and 428-434

War VII:26-35

Mt 27:52

“and thirdly the resurrection of the dead.”

VI:414 “survivors appeared constantly”

VI:429 “For after every man who showed himself had either been killed or captured by the Romans, those in the underground passages were fettered out.” The fate of one of the leaders of the defenders of Jerusalem, John of Gischala, is described in the same passage.

VII:26-35 describes the Simon bar Giora’s emergence from a secret passage and his subsequent capture.

“The memorials also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.”


(D) Αναστασις νεκρων is traditionally translated as ‘resurrection of the dead’, but as the streets and hiding places of Jerusalem were filled with living corpses in that days, the translation ‘recovery of the deathly ill’ or ‘recovery of the moribund’ seems more appropriate (see BDAG p. 667 for the translation of νεκρος as deathly ill).

(NT) The people who had fallen asleep are apparently those who were exhausted as part of the terminal phase of their famine (like Jesus’ followers in the garden of Gethsemane). The most illustrious moribund ones who recovered were Jesus, Simon bar Giora and John of Gischala. Jesus’ recovery is the most spectacular one as it followed his crucifixion and resulted in a permanent escape. Matthew suggests that the moribund hided in memorials, Josephus speaks of underground passages. Matthew’s use of μνημειον can be inspired by Jesus’ stay in a memorial after he was taken from the cross. (In the singular Matthew’s verse would reflect Jesus’ situation remarkably well: ‘The memorial also was opened, and the body of the holy one who had fallen asleep was raised.’)

I believe these three signs in verse 6 present a nice chronological unity that describes the culminating events of the war:

  • The sign in the sky: The burning of the Temple (beginning of August 70 CE)
  • The sign of the salpinx: Final Roman victory / Fall of Jerusalem (end of August 70 CE)
  • The resurrection of the dead: The appearance of starved and hidden survivors in the days after the fall of the city (last days of August, first days of September). Jesus was the most important amongst them.

Three signs of a disastrous reality with a spark of hope.